Martin Truex Jr. got nervous in a hurry towards the end of his dominant training at Darlington Raceway.
Barely pushed through much of the race, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver suddenly saw Kyle Larson catch up in the final laps.
Truex, however, used his consistent demeanor and focus on the track to secure his third NASCAR Cup Series victory this season.
Not that it’s easy.
When Truex noticed Larson right behind him within 30 laps to the left, he was like, “Oh, man, he’s right behind me.
“Your heart rate is increasing,” he continued, “your anxiety is increasing. “
Very quickly, Truex returned to his stable and powerful ride on the “Too Tough To Tame” track.
“I hope we can keep this momentum going,” Truex said.
Truex owner Joe Gibbs told him after Larson scared the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach. “Yeah, he scared me too,” Truex told him.
The victory gave Truex some return on his investment at Darlington compared to last time here last September, when he led 196 laps, but finished 22nd after falling out for the lead late with Chase Elliott.
This time, Truex made sure he had no problem running ahead – often holding a 10 second lead on the court – to win for the second time on the “Too Tough To Tame” track.
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Truex led 248 of 293 laps for his 30th career NASCAR Best Series victory. He is the only driver to have won multiple victories in the first 12 races of the year.
“It’s fun when you’re up front,” Truex said. “You are always just careful to stay focused on what you are doing. “
No one was more focused in Darlington than Truex.
He took control halfway through the first of three stages, moving forward on a restart and settling in for a long ride up front. Truex led the last 21 laps to take the first stage, then the last 36 as he claimed the second stage victory of around 14 seconds over his JGR teammate Kyle Busch.
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Truex erupted when the race resumed for the final stage and easily managed a few green flag pit laps to stay ahead.
Larson was second with Truex teammate Kyle Busch third. William Byron was fourth and Denny Hamlin, who came in as NASCAR points leader, was fifth.
Larson charged hard to catch up, even using a dramatic slippery pass between Ryan Newman and Tyler Reddick to keep chasing after the lead.
“Glad we weren’t shipwrecked there,” Larson said with a smile.
Kyle Busch followed up his first win of the season in Kansas last week with a solid third place finish in Darlington. It was Busch’s sixth top 10 in his last seven races here. Busch’s only victory at Darlington came in 2008.
WHO IS NOT
Kurt Busch seemed headed for big things at Darlington when he gave the track one of the most iconic moments, finishing second here in 2003 against Ricky Craven in a side-to-side duel where he lost 0.002 seconds. But Busch hasn’t come this close to a Darlington victory in 22 races since. His last departure ended in flames after hitting the interior wall and the liquid his car spat out caught on fire. “It has been a difficult year and that only adds to it,” said driver Chip Ganassi Racing, who was not injured in the incident.
HEY, isn’t it…?
There were a handful of guests and NASCAR fans allowed to roam the garage area, the first time this was allowed in the sport since the coronavirus stopped stock car racing in March 2020. Kevin Harvick a won at Darlington last May with no fans in the facility last May. There were around 8,000 fans in the stands. There was about double that amount here on Sunday and Darlington officials have said they will open the stands to anyone who wants to come for the Southern 500 on September 5.
NASCAR heads to Dover International Speedway for another triple-headed weekend where the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series take place ahead of the Cup Series race at the Monster Mile. Kevin Harvick won the Cup Series there in 2020, as part of his nine best wins of the season.